Have you ever spent a lot of time with a young child, one who is not quite three? At that age, most have a lot of skills under their little belts. They not only walk but run; they climb stairs and use spoons and forks. Many are toilet trained. Yet they are still so fresh and new. They look around themselves, continually seeing things to try. And try they do.
Each day, each hour brings them experiences unlike those they’ve ever had before. They reach for the door knob to open it, but the size is beyond their hand’s grasp. Having tried, they may be satisfied. Or they may turn, complaining to an adult, or just fall to the floor with a wail. Frustration ensues, the product of wishes exceeding their capabilities.
No matter the outcome, it doesn’t stop their quest. Again and again, maybe then or maybe later, they try that knob, trying to open the door to ever more experiences currently beyond their reach.
In this way, small children are more mature than many of us grown-ups. They keep trying; they don’t let their frustration or lack of perfection stop their quest. They’re lousy at walking at first, aren’t they? But they keep at it. They practice. And soon they can walk with steady balance, all by themselves.
At what age do children change, giving in to defeat, or not even trying, lacking in confidence?
And why can’t we, as adults, overcome our loss of confidence? Why can’t we convince ourselves to try, and then to try again?
Do you want to applique with invisible stitches? Free-motion quilt fluidly? Improve your piecing accuracy? Maybe your goals have nothing to do with quilting. The problems are the same.
When you’re a beginner, you’re not very good. But you know enough to know that your work isn’t great, that it’s disappointing to you. Don’t give up! Be more like a toddler, trying again, trying again, until finally you master your desired skill.
That’s the message from Ira Glass on getting better at your art.
Glass reminds us that it takes a while to find your way, and it takes a huge volume of work. How much? In 2008, a book called “Outliers: The Story of Success” was published. The author, Malcolm Gladwell, asserts that mastery of a skill requires 10,000 hours of practice. Consider working full time for a year — that is about 2,000 hours. So Gladwell seems to say that five years of full-time effort is needed for success.
Now, that’s enough to discourage anyone from even starting!
On the other end of the spectrum, Josh Kaufman claims that a mere twenty hours of practice is needed to be successful. Kaufman is the author of “The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything … Fast!” In this Forbes interview he explains that the 10,000 hour rule works, if you’re attempting to become a professional athlete, musician or the like. But most of us don’t have those ambitions.
When asked for tips on mastering a new skill, Kaufman responds:
First, decide what you want to be able to do. I call this a *target performance level*: what does skilled performance look like? If you have a clear idea of how good you want to become, it’s much easier to find specific practice methods that will help you get there as quickly as possible.
Second, break the skill down into smaller parts. This process is called *deconstruction*. Most skills are really just bundles of smaller subskills you use at the same time. By breaking down the skill into managable parts, you eliminate the early feelings of overwhelm and make it easier to get started.
Third, practice the most important subskills first. A few subskills will always be more important than others, so it makes sense to begin by practicing the things that will give you the greatest increases in performance. By focusing your early practice on the most critical parts of the skill, you’ll see a dramatic increase in your performance after a few hours of practice.
Now, tell the truth: when’s the last time you committed even twenty hours of practice to a new skill?
And think about those tips. Isn’t that just what small children do, though not as deliberately? Their physical and mental capabilities don’t always develop at the same pace. But they learn a little bit at a time, improving on their reach, their ability to hold tight while turning the wrist, until finally they can open the door.
So don’t stop acting like a two-year-old. Commit time to practice the skills you value, whether that is at work or in a hobby. You may not be an expert in twenty hours. But you’ll be pretty good, especially compared to where you started.